Monday, December 1, 2014

Ariel 3 road test

Maybe this is something I shouldn't admit but a few days ago I fulfilled a motorcycling ambition, a big tick on the two-wheeled bucket list. I had a go on an Ariel 3. The rottenness of the Ariel 3 is the stuff of legend, a bike so awful that it bought the mighty BSA empire down to its knees. A machine that was marketed with the strap-line 'Here it is, whatever it is.' Perhaps such a reputation should send a man running to the nearest Honda Cub but to me it arouses curiosity. A forbidden fruit of the classic motorcycle world.

In all its glory. The Ariel 3.
Perhaps in years gone by I would have felt the need for some kind of disguise before swinging a leg over the 3 but am now of an age where I don't really care anymore. The shame and embarrassment has gone and I can laugh at myself from a distance for I appreciate that a 6'2 chap on an Ariel 3 is a truly comical sight.

The 3 has a centrifugal clutch. The controls are a sprung-loaded choke operated by the left thumb for starting, a combined throttle and decompressor on the right (forward for decomp, pull back for 'go') and front brake lever on the right, rear on the left of the bars. This example hadn't been run for a while so starting took a long push, probably in regular use it will fire easily with the pedals but they're really not there to cover any more than 20 odd foot with. This isn't a problem as once started there's no need for 'light pedal assistance' as on earlier 'peds.

Beautiful it ain't. Not in any sense of the word.
There's nothing strange about the handling at all, the only problem I had was that my size ten boots could rub a heel on a rear tyre whilst pedaling to start. Stability is good and it's fun to execute a low speed u-turn without the need for footing. The front brake was rather feeble, the rear was excellent. Rear braking is only on the left side wheel, a logical enough solution for cost saving but it does result in a slightly disconcerting pull to the left if you grab a big handful of brake.

As for forward motion (performance is not a word that can be connected to the 3 in any way) it is adequate. If you were used to a cyclemotor then it would have been a revelation. Had you previously sampled a French or Italian moped then the Ariel would likely have been very disappointing. However it did move forward, at a probable 15 to 20 mph, it didn't need any pedal assistance to get going and best of all it was actually fun!

The powerplant. A German Anker unit. They still turn up new
old stock to this day such was the massive quantity that BSA
ordered in their mis-placed optimism over potential sales for
the Ariel 3.
With the benefit of hindsight perhaps the Ariel 3 wasn't such a crazy idea and it is possible to see how the big wigs of BSA thought that it just might be the savior of the company. After all even the mighty Honda must have taken a look at the 3 in designing the almost equally unsuccessful Stream moped. The difference with Honda was that they had the financial power behind them to produce a lemon, learn and then go on to get it right (the Gyro is still a big selling model in Japan to this day). For BSA it was sink or swim and alas the 3 proved to head straight for the ocean bottom...

The rear body folds back for access to the engine. Despite
this it is still difficult to access.

Drive belt clearly visible. Carb has a very long
inlet tract and is worringly close to the silencer.

Riders eye view.

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